Theapoetics by Molly Meade

I think there is a poet in me

she’s been hiding

I didn’t know she was there

I didn’t see her
I didn’t hear her

I didn’t watch for her
wait for her
listen to her
or know her

and yet, when I come to this place in the woods
and I sit down
and I open my mouth

poetry comes out

and I really think
she’s been here all along.

In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as theapoetics—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language. As Stanley Hopper originally described in the 1970’s, it is possible to “…replace theology, the rationalistic interpretation of belief, with theopoetics, finding God[dess] through poetry and fiction, which neither wither before modern science nor conflict with the complexity of what we know now to be the self.” Theapoetics might also be described, “as a means of engaging language and perception in such a way that one enters into a radical relation with the divine, the other, and the creation in which all occurs.”

Rather than developing or articulating a scientific theory of the Goddess, or even a cohesive thealogy, the idea is that theologians may instead find the Goddess through “poetic articulations” of their own embodied experiences. Theapoetics asks thealogians to accept these lived experiences as legitimate sources of direct, or divine, revelation, within the wider understanding of both the divine and Life itself as ultimately mysterious and irreducible. Thealogy in this way becomes more poetry than physics, while also perhaps simultaneously allowing physics and science to share the realm of the sacred and divine. In the process of engaging with direct revelation in a powerful way, we meet the presence of the living Goddess that always exists close to the surface of daily reality. An example of this may be found in another spontaneous poem that emerged when I opened my mouth in the woods one summer afternoon:

Goddess Direct
Goddess, where are you?
I am within you and around you
in your heart that seeks answers
and connection
Goddess, do you exist?
Yes, I am as real as your own heartbeat.
I am here in that bird’s song
I am here in the breeze that touches your face
I am as solid as the stone you sit on
I am that which weaves the Whole.
I am that which holds the All.
I am that which flows,
dancing lightly
through the heartbeat of every form on this earth
I am within you and around you
beneath you and above you
I am your home
I am that which you seek
I am that which you know
And, I love deeply, richly, and well.

Educator and artist Callid Keefe-Perry explains that: “…creation is a body of God[dess], and that our relationship to the divine must be similarly ‘enfleshed.’ Just as the poet must bring new eyes to the particulars and details of life so as to more fully capture them in verse… theologians bring a renewed perspective on creation to more fully capture how God[dess] moves in the world” (588).

I also see and respond to theapoetics in the writings of others. When others write with broad, sweeping, beautiful, soaring language about the nature of life and reality, I hear in those rhythms a way of understanding and experiencing the Goddess. A favorite example is in Brian Swimme’s description of the Great Birth (Big Bang) in his essay from the book Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminist Philosophy: “From a single fireball the galaxies and stars were all woven. Out of a single molten planet the hummingbirds and pterodactyls and gray whales were all woven. What could be more obvious than this all-pervasive fact of cosmic and terrestrial weaving? Out of a single group of microorganisms, the Krebs cycle was woven, the convoluted human brain was woven, the Pali Canon was woven, all part of the radiant tapestry of being. Show us this weaving? Why, it is impossible to point to anything that does not show it, for this creative, interlacing energy envelops us entirely. Our lives in truth are nothing less than a further unfurling of this primordial ordering activity…Women are beings who know from the inside out what it is like to weave the Earth into a new human being” (21, emphasis mine). As Keefe-Perry explains and we see demonstrated within Swimm’s quote, “Used as an adjective, a the[a]poetic text is one that reveals some aspect of the divine.”

Drawing directly from David Miller’s (a student of Hopper) three-fold conception of “theopoiesis,” I offer this similar three-fold understanding of theapoetics:

  1. Stepping back—moving away from the classic blinders of Western understandings and theological or intellectual or theoretical constraints and becoming clear and open to the magic unfolding right in front of our eyes.
  2. Stepping down—“in which the individual enters the darkness of mystery and is unable to construct meaning because the familiar tools of theology and metaphysics are no longer available” (Keefe-Perry)
  3.  Stepping through—emerging from the dark confusion and ineffability into a “re-poetizing of existence.”  (Keefe-Perry)

Quoting Miller, Keefe-Perry goes on to explain: “It not only means reading poetry. It means, especially, reading everything in life and work poetically. It does not mean stepping out of the depths through to anything else. Rather, it means walking through everything deeply, seeing through life deeply.”

One of my favorite verses in my life as a mother and as a conscious observer of the rhythms and flow of life comes from this poem by Mary Oliver

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

I have a friend who is a “recovering Christian.” She says that she can only put her trust in science now and will never again believe in something she cannot see. Several months ago, I dreamed that I was trying to explain to her my experiences and sense of the Goddess as real using my love for my baby as an example—telling her that you cannot see or prove my love for my baby, but I know without one scrap of doubt that this love exists in the world, because I experience and live it every day.

If theapoetics calls to you as it does to me, I suggest finding a sacred spot to be alone, opening your mouth and seeing what comes out.

Woods hold me
Goddess hear me
Peace fill me…

Molly Meade, MSW, ICCE, CCCE is a certified birth educator, writer, activist, and ordained priestess who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a newsletter editor, a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College. She blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.me, about thealogy and theapoetics at http://goddesspriestess.com, and creates goddess art and jewelry at http://etsy.com/shop/BrigidsGrove.

Additional examples of my own spontaneous theapoetical experiences: Relatedness  and The Role of Death in the Circle of Life, and this Woodsprayer below.

Woodsprayer
This is a place of holy beauty
This life is my prayer
I open my arms to the fullness that surrounds me
Breathing deep
Listening well
Touching softly
Tasting gently
Inhale…
Exhale…
–Molly, June 25, 2012

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Categories: Feminism, Feminist Theology, General, Goddess, Goddess Movement, Poetry, Thealogy, Women's Spirituality

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20 replies

  1. Oh My Goddess! Thank you, Molly, for sharing your beautiful theapoetics! Many blessed, exquisite turns of phrase that sweep me into Her and your experience of Her. And thank you for introducing me to the term “theapoetics.” I’ve been caught up in this type of writing for the past several years — producing 2 books and another on the way — and have been sort of referring to them vaguely as contemplative stream-of-consciousness flows upon the Gaia Path. One of my personal favorites is shared below …

    I spy a face among the leaves
    Her soft gaze carried in the breeze
    with light and shadow rippling there
    among the strands of filmy hair
    wherein lies all the knowledge bare
    for me to see and touch and feel
    we are the sacred spinning wheel
    of all the cycles of the earth
    Gaia breathes to give us birth

    see once upon a fairy tale
    into Her world I set my sail
    and traipsed across the midnight trail
    with winds and tides of air
    so light I felt my bosom rise in flight
    the wings that carry far away
    into the dawning of the day
    and there I see Her face once more
    She smiles at me from forest floor
    of damp decay and drying leaves
    of interwoven lives that I believe
    can hear Her call across the void
    and sing Her songs of splendid joy

    She is the fairest one of all
    and I am Her and She is me
    we are the trees that stand so tall
    we are the broad expanse of sea
    Her face I glimpse and I am free
    to hear and know and live and see
    She peeks around the edge of oak
    and scurries up the scratchy bark
    of living symbols standing firm
    when will we ever truly learn
    that all we are is out of Her
    from earth and water
    fire and air
    our spirits in the ether fair
    a glimmer from Her loving eye
    can bring a tear of joy to mine

    I feel Her near all times of day
    to walk or run as my heart plays
    or in the darkest shadow fall
    feel her know her she is All

    I walk the woods this later hour
    feeling deep her spreading power
    all around I hear her whisper
    a twig nap here
    a rustle there
    and just a glimpse of fairy hair
    that’s caught upon a brushy snare
    limbs of trees across the path
    that trip the ones who dare to laugh
    at Nature’s messy beauty jumbled
    like the river rocks once tumbled
    are the smoothest in my hand
    they shape and anchor Gaia’s land

    I am only simple cells
    formed in one shape skin and bone
    and here within my spirit dwells
    just like how we are all as One

    I look into Her eyes and see
    the grace of love fulfilling me
    I look again and we are one
    Her face is gone our work is done
    for when I do no longer see
    the separateness of Her and me
    then life will be paradise complete
    and we will fall on our own feet
    for I will find the sacred heart
    is always mine and yours and ours
    there is no you or Her or me
    there is just us always we
    so when I spy Her face among the leaves
    I know the image is just me

    I honor all the gifts of Gaia’s shroud
    through conscious thought and prayers aloud
    I speak to others what I feel
    no more secrets all revealed
    for Truth is here and now forever
    among the leaves wherein we gather

    Bright Blessings!

  2. I’m so, so glad this spoke to you! I feel pretty tender about putting it out there!

    And, thank you for sharing your own beautiful theapoetics. I’ll have to make sure to check out your blog!

    I think I actually coined the phrase “theapoetics” (at least based on google not turning anything else up using the word in this sense ;-).

  3. I suspect Christine Downing may have used the word theapoetics, as her work is another way of doing that, and she knew the authors you quote. Anyone know if she did?

  4. Molly, I love this post, not only what you wrote, but also the photo of the limestone (?) outcroppings where you experience Goddess’ presence. They remind me a lot of the “table rocks” where I used to play with my sisters as a kid. That playfulness seems deeply connected to the sacred for me, since ritual, song, creativity are what link me to Goddess, and those activities always have an element of play in them.

    Theology, as the “rationalstic interpretation of belief,” seems to have very little to do with what we as feminist thealogians are interested in. Whatever we call it, feminist theo/thealogy seems much more related to the deeply experienced, heartfelt poetry that you have graced us with. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Nancy! And, yes, you’re right, I’ve often thought that thealogy does not and should not take the same approaches that theology has taken (while only plugging the word Goddess into the abandoned space). I suspect that using theology to understand thealogy may be like trying to use patriarchy to understand feminism.

      The rocks are limestone and I wish I could get a better picture of all of them–it is really a sacred space and I’d love to be able to communicate that more clearly in a photo!

Trackbacks

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